This is a repost with edits (for better readability) of an article on the NET By VINCENT DOWD, Arts correspondent, BBC News.
PG Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, was the most English novelist imaginable. His comic world was old-fashioned well before he died 45 years back (in 1975) – crammed with disapproving aunts in hats, eccentric aristocrats and wealthy young men about town getting into scrapes. But he has countless fans around the world – not least in India, a country, Wodehouse never visited.
Vincent Dowd mentions a couple of fans of author PG Wodehouse. These fans were spotted by him hanging on for years on end in various PGW fan clubs around the World.
One of them, ‘NAVTEJ SARNA’, had a highly distinguished career in the Indian Foreign Service. He had postings as ambassador to US. He was located, at different times, in London and Washington DC. But before that Navtej spent a short time with the Indian industrial conglomerate Tata. He recalls the final paper of the entrance exams, which he sat in 1980. Applicants were required to select one essay to write from various options supplied.
- “I looked unhappily at this list of rather involved economic and business topics,” Navtej says, “all of which I knew I might struggle with. And then I was saved by the last one: ‘A Wodehouse a Day Keeps the Doctor Away’. So that’s what I wrote about and it got me the job (at TATA.)”
- It might seem odd that 40 years ago a massive South Asian business concern would assume job applicants might still be familiar with such utterly English works.
- In fact Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881 – 1975) became an Indian favourite even as quite a young writer – though he never went there and he barely mentions India in 71 of his novels or in his many short stories. Yet he was read there avidly and his most popular books still sell in English-language bookshops.
- ‘I just fell in love’
Navtej Sarna says being taught in schools in India (where the teaching was all in English for him,) with his first English literature reading in the 1960s, wasn’t so different from that of British children a few years before read- Enid Blyton, Jennings and Billy Bunter.
- But I began to outgrow them and then I discovered Wodehouse. It wasn’t difficult because my father had at least 40 of his books – I just fell in love with his characters and humour and especially with the way he used words. I think that may be his appeal for English-speaking Indians – his delight in the English language.
- “We had old Penguin paperbacks and some of the original hardback copies published in London by Herbert Jenkins like Uncle Fred in the Springtime. We read them so much as a family that we had to go into the market in Dehradun and ask to get them rebound – they were falling apart.
- “Although the English left after independence (in 1947) there was still a close intellectual linkage with India’s English-speaking administrative and professional class. The fondness for Wodehouse was part of that.
- “I think one must admit that the world has changed and people under 40 now are perhaps less likely to read him in India. They exist in a world of iPhones and Netflix and social media – perhaps Wodehouse is too much from a different time.”
Navtej Sarna thinks an overlap remains between British humour and the humour enjoyed by Indians who grew up speaking English at home and in school.
“I know people sometimes say the world Wodehouse described hasn’t existed for many years. As I grew up, I think I realised that his world had perhaps never existed at all,” he says.
“But for instance, families such as mine would play the board game Monopoly and we would see street names such as Piccadilly and Pall Mall – it all seemed part of the same world as Wodehouse with its clubs and the bobbies in their helmets and the red London buses.”
“There are generations of Indians who grew up with an affection for those things. Later on in life you realise that much water has flown. But it doesn’t change the fact that a book like The Code of the Woosters is an absolute classic with sheer joy in his use of language.”
- ‘Aunt Clubs and Tea’
- Navtej Sarna says more, “And, as I grew older I appreciated what you might call the non-ideology of his books. There is almost no politics, except in a few brief satirical mentions. It’s a never-never world without problems.”
- The nearest you get to a tragedy is someone losing a hat or their hot-water bottle being punctured.
- “So much of the detail has echoes in India: we have our aunts, we have clubs – and of course we love drinking tea.
- A valet like Jeeves would also be excellent but I don’t think that’s very likely.”
KEEPING THE FLAME ALIGHT, ONLINE
(pic) SUSHMITA SEN GUPTA’s book collection; Sushmita is a Wodehouse fan. (photo is a download from the net)
Another long-standing fan of Wodehouse is SUSMITA SEN GUPTA- She lives in Delhi but has been a member of the UK Wodehouse Society almost since it began. She agrees with Sarna that younger Indians now have less time for the gentle comedies of Plum Wodehouse, as he was known. (Indian fans refer to themselves as plummies.)
- “But the positive news is that in other ways the internet helps we plummies too. India is a vast country with a vast population so it used to be that fans could only discuss their Wodehouse addiction with their family or a few friends,” she says.
- “Now we have online groups and even in lockdown we’ve been keeping our Wodehouse discussions going online.
- “I grew up in a house stuffed with books in English and in Bengali. My mother wanted me to read English classics such as Charles Dickens. But I had two uncles who were just mad about PG Wodehouse. When I was 10 or 11, I was given one of his books – I think it was the school story The White Feather. I’ve never stopped reading him and I read the biographies too.
- “I remember that Wodehouse inspired my uncle to tell us the best way to say goodbye was always to say ‘ta ta, chin chin, toodeloo’. So it’s what we always said. We loved it and now I’ve been collecting his books for half a century, since I was 14.”
- Sushmita Sen Gupta draws a parallel with a more recent comedy popular on Indian TV.
- “There was an Indian version of the BBC series Yes, Minister called Ji Mantriji. The administrative class which runs the Indian bureaucracy adored it because exactly the same jokes worked here too.
“It’s the same with Wodehouse – there’s a real sense of the absurd and little bits of satire you might not expect. Maybe before 1947 Indians enjoyed the fact he was making fun of the English ruling class – but we see ourselves in his comedy too.”
- Sen Gupta is looking to social media to keep interest in Plum Wodehouse going in the future.
- “We had a thriving Yahoo group but these days mainly we use WhatsApp. A few years from now probably the contact will be in some new way not even invented yet.
- “It would be sad to think his readers in India will all grow older and die off. And probably the audience will grow smaller – but I am sure there’ll always be Indians to adore his humour and language and that innocent sense of fun.”
SCREEN ADAPTATIONS OF PGW BOOKS AND THE CHARACTERS
In the mid-1960s the BBC adapted the Jeeves and Wooster stories with Dennis Price and Ian Carmichael in the lead roles of the series The World of Wooster. Between 1990 and 1993 ITV had a real hit with the series: Jeeves and Wooster, with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie widely praised for their performances. The most recent series was the BBC’s Blandings in 2013.
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s decades since Wodehouse characters starred on the big screen movies.
(pic) Ian Carmichael and Dennis Price in the BBC TV series The World of Wooster in the 1960s; photo is a copy/paste from the net.
(pic) John Alderton and Pauline Collins starred in the BBC’s adaptation of Wodehouse’s A Voice From The Past in the 1970s; photo is a copy/paste from the net.
(pic) ALAMY IMAGES-Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in ITV’s Jeeves and Wooster series in the 1990s (photo is a copy/paste from the net)
- (Staged performances of selected works of PGW are also popular. Couple of years back, SURESH RAO, had a ring side seat at the play ‘PERFERCT NONSENSE’ staged in Bengaluru at the Venue: St. John’s Auditorium, Koramangala in south Bengaluru.
- (This play has also been staged in LONDON and NEW DELHI too.)
- (‘PERFECT NONSENSE’, the modern play, written by The Goodale Brothers was originally Directed By Sean Foley.)
- This play is based on the more recent PGW-book-reprint- JEEVES AND WOOSTER OMNIBUS; Suresh reviewed and wrote on the NET about this modern play… to express his joy in witnessing the stage play at Bengaluru. The somewhat pricy ticket to the ring side seat to view the play was a gift from his son who had interned at St John’s Medical College.)
============================ REAL LIFE PHOTOS OF PGW ==========================
PG Wodehouse in his prime years (copyright, Getty Images) (photo is a copy/paste from the net)
PG Wodehouse at the wheel of an AC Royal Roadster at the Norfolk home of a friend in 1928 (photo is a copy/paste from the net)
PG Wodehouse in 1970 (A photo from the Net)
MY OTHER BLOG ON PGW@ https://thewriterfriends.com/perfect-nonsense/
Thewriterfriends.com is an experiment to bring the creative people together on one platform. It is a free platform for creativity. While there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of platforms that provide space for expression around the world, the feeling of being a part of fraternity is often lacking. If you have a creative urge, then this is the right place for you. You are welcome here to be one of us.
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